News and Information
Delays haunt treason trial Case could be put off until November
|May 18, 2005
THE shadow of the car accident that claimed the life of a member of the prosecution team involved in the Caprivi high treason trial in the High Court at Grootfontein cast a dark cloud of delay over the trial yesterday.
The trial might not continue until November 1, and could resume not at Grootfontein, but in a hall in the grounds of the Windhoek Central Prison.
This was the scenario that Deputy Prosecutor General Danie Small yesterday asked Judge Elton Hoff to make a reality with an order that the trial be transferred to Windhoek and that it be postponed until November 1.
Judge Hoff will give his ruling on the transfer and postponement on Thursday next week, in the High Court in Windhoek.
EASTER TRAGEDY Small addressed the Judge for more than an hour in the High Court at Grootfontein yesterday morning to explain the motivation behind the Prosecutor General's decision that it would be preferable to have the trial, which he estimated could take another two years to be finalised, shifted to Windhoek.
An event that took place on Easter Monday, March 28, lay at the basis of his argument.
It was on that day that the prosecution team involved in the trial was involved in a fatal head-on collision on the road between Otjiwarongo and Otavi.
The prosecutors were travelling to Grootfontein for what was supposed to be the continuation of the testimony of the tenth State witness.
Prosecutor Corelie Barnard was killed in the crash.
Her colleagues, Deputy Prosecutors General Herman January and Taswald July, were critically injured.
Both spent a month in intensive care units in Windhoek hospitals, and are still recovering from their injuries.
If there was one good thing to come from the accident, it was that it had opened many people's eyes to what could happen when a trial continues for as long as this one had, Small told the Judge.
"This accident showed us the risk involved to all personnel involved in this trial," he remarked.
He told the Judge that, if need be, State prosecutors could be substituted in the trial, defence counsel could also be substituted, but if something were to happen to the Judge himself before the case was finalised, the trial would have to start again from scratch.
The long distances that many of the people involved in the trial were travelling, mostly from Windhoek, to Grootfontein and back each week, were a danger, and the Minister of Justice and Attorney General had indicated that it was no longer considered to be a risk worth taking.
Small said a hall on the premises of the Windhoek Central Prison had been identified as a possible new venue for the trial.
The plan was that the southern gate giving access to the prison grounds would be opened again - it has been sealed off for some years - if the trial shifted to the suggested location, and that the public and the media would be assured access to the hall for trial proceedings, Small said.
It would not be "a type of secret and in camera trial" that would be conducted on the prison grounds, Small added.
He told the Judge that not only would time be needed to arrange for the hall to be properly prepared, but he would also need more time to prepare for the trial.
Small has been instructed to take over the prosecution in the absence of January and July.
They may however again join the prosecution at a later stage, he indicated.
He also indicated to Judge Hoff that the accident had been a huge setback for the prosecution.
The three members of the prosecution team were the only people who knew how their team had planned to attempt to prove the State's allegations against the 120 high treason suspects on trial before Judge Hoff, Small said.
With the seriously injured January and July not available to be consulted after the accident, "in essence, we had to start from scratch", Small explained.
He said that meant that the State was not ready to proceed with the trial.
Since he would also be involved in the second Caprivi high treason trial, involving 12 suspects, that is scheduled to start in the High Court in Windhoek on June 13 and to continue, with some breaks in between, to October 7, Small suggested that the first trial continue from November 1.
The immediate indications from the defence were that their clients were not happy with such a long postponement, and that they might return to court with applications that bail be granted to the accused in the meantime.
In the alternative, suggested defence lawyer Greyson Nyoni, the Police and prison authorities should be ordered to move the accused to custody at Katima Mulilo, or move them there on a rotational basis, to enable their relatives to visit them with greater ease.
Most of the 120 have now been in custody for about five years and nine months.
If Small's estimate that the trial would take at least another two years to complete proves to be correct, and the trial is postponed to November 1 on May 26, they face the prospect of spending more than eight years in custody before hearing the verdict in their case.
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